Vulgarity is everywhere these days. We hear it in all the usual places and a lot of unexpected places. As it increasingly invades our culture, a closer look at it might help.
What Is Vulgarity?
According to Merriam-Webster, vulgarity consists of acting in vulgar ways. Vulgar actions are considered lacking in cultivation or taste; morally crude, offensive in language, or lewdly or profanely indecent. The Apple dictionary singles out actions that make explicit reference to sex or bodily functions, or are coarse or rude. They both say it derived from the common people and lacks refinement. This includes words like s**t, c**p, f**k, s**k, and so many others.
Given the definition, it is easy to understand why vulgarity has never been considered appropriate in polite society.
Why Are We More Vulgar Today?
Unquestionably the rise social media and cell phones contributed to a downturn in civility. In my opinion, the other three primary factors leading to the increased use of vulgarity are:
- For the past fifty or so years we increasingly challenged authority and rules, especially rules perceived as arbitrary. Along the way we came to believe we could do whatever we want with no regard for those around us. In the absence of boundaries or guidelines, anything goes.
- The entertainment industry (among others) showers us with a constant stream of vulgarity. This helps desensitize us.
- Our culture is currently fear driven. Fear works as a motivator to convince people to think your way. Marketers, the media and politicians all use fear to try to convince us to adopt their points of view. Once a person succumbs to fear, they feel they have less control over their lives, think less clearly and become off balance, even angry. Hearing vulgarity everywhere, they easily resort to using it too.
Why Does Vulgarity Matter?
In our increasingly diverse world, we must be mindful of the effect we have on others if we want to get along and prosper together.
We can compare acceptance of vulgarity to swearing. The 2013 Survey of Civility in America by Weber Shandwick, the latest that measured swearing, reported that 72% of the respondents disapprove of swearing in public—even among those who admitted to swearing. I have personally experienced a rise in vulgarity since then and find it almost a bigger problem. These surveys also consistently show the negative effects of incivility on people, companies and society.
I have also seen an increasing number of articles where parents question how to control the swearing and vulgarity in their children. Many parents struggle to raise civil and respectful children in this increasingly uncivil society. Children absorb everything they see and hear, challenging parents to monitor and filter messages.
Vulgarity frequently dilutes a person’s message. By resorting to vulgar comments instead of being precise, messages get muddied and lose their power. It also risks offending some in your audience; you never really know how people will react.
Finally, I think it matters because it speaks to our baser side instead of challenging us to rise to our best.
Decide Where You Stand On Vulgarity
Ultimately you have to decide where you stand on the subject. Decide when and where you think it is appropriate: informal vs. formal, children vs. adults, etc. Whatever you decide, be aware of the effect you might have on others. Model the behavior you want to see.
It cannot surprise you that I vote for a return to more civility and less vulgarity.